Rugby: Tri-Nations series heroes, villains and magic moments

By Dylan Cleaver

A slimline Piri Weepu takes the attack to the Springboks. Photo / Getty Images
A slimline Piri Weepu takes the attack to the Springboks. Photo / Getty Images

Captain Courageous, his slimline teammate - and the odd incendiary comment. It had it all.

Best player
Richie McCaw: No prizes for guessing this one. The next four in line would have been All Blacks as well, with Kieran Read, Brad Thorn and Keven Mealamu outstanding.

Wallaby David Pocock was the closest foreigner, though he blotted his copybook with an ordinary night in Sydney.

Surprise package
Piri Weepu: Looking like something out of a Jenny Craig commercial, Weepu wasn't just thinner, he looked a different player. Snappy and direct, he also hoofed over kicks when required.

Kick of the series
Kurtley Beale: Time up, penalty near the sideline on the halfway line. The Boks are up by one. Beale, not the first-choice kicker, steps up in front of a baying bunch of Bloemfonteiners. Nailed it. Wallabies win by two. Weepu's effort when taking over from Daniel Carter against the Boks in Wellington wasn't bad, but there was not so much riding on it.

Quote of the series
"Graham Henry is a good coach, but he's like me, he has a big mouth." Peter de Villiers proves remarkably prescient in the lead-up to the opening test. By the end of the tournament it was obvious that A) Henry was a good coach and, B) de Villiers had an extremely large mouth.

Biggest disappointment
Pierre Spies: The man is a lion, as long as the opposition are baby gnu, abandoned by their mothers on the Serengeti.

Make it an even fight, and Spies doesn't want to know. Matt Giteau and his errant boot comes in a close second.

Best newcomer
Francois Hougaard: Ricky Januarie and Ruan Pienaar have tried and failed to convince South Africans the world keeps turning while Fourie du Preez is injured.

In Hougaard, they appeared to find their saviour. he could be a pest for years to come, just where they play him when du Preez comes back is another matter. Props to Israel Dagg and Ben McCalman as well.

Best tackle
Cory Jane: His try-saver on Lachie Turner in Sydney was, as it panned out, pivotal. Hougaard's effort on Adam Ashley-Cooper in Pretoria deserves a mention. Jerome Kaino made a few bone-crunchers. But fans shouldn't expect to see spectacular hits in rugby anymore: the refs blow up anything that looks like it might hurt.

Biggest gaffe
John Smit: It's your 100th test, the kids have been on the field with you, you've given your guts and then some, and somehow your team has kept the favoured All Blacks to a draw. Well almost. Away goes Ma'a Nonu, through a tired and tepid tackle from the Boks proud skipper, Israel Dagg scores and it's heartbreak on the highveld.

Longest face
Rocky Elsom: Nobody does the morose post-match interview after a loss like Australian skipper Rocky Elsom. The Australian strappers would be advised to remove all pairs of scissors from the changing sheds.

Biggest clown
Bakkies Botha: Remember him? Even Smit couldn't explain the actions of his grafting lock after he planted a headbutt into the back of Jimmy Cowan's head during the opening test at Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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